Priest Who Denied Communion to Same-Gender Couple Now Disrupts Parishioner’s Funeral

March 22, 2016
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St. Leo’s Catholic Church

A Montana priest’s disruption of a parishioner’s funeral recently has its roots in his denial of communion to a same-gender couple in the parish in 2014.

Almost two years ago, Fr.  Spiering, 29, denied Communion to Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick because the two men had recently married. The pastor expelled them from parish ministries in which they had been active. Fellow parishioners at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Lewistown protested the priest’s act at the time, including resignations by the church choir’s director and several members.

Earlier this month, at least three of those former choir members and director Janie Shupe were invited by the Valach family to sing at the funeral of Pearl Valach, a parishioner at the church for all of her 92 years. Ms. Valach had disagreed at the time with the priest’s decision to deny Communion to Huff and Wojtowick but remained in the church. Her daughter-in-law, Susan Valach, explained to the Great Falls Tribune:

“She was upset when the decision was made. . .She continued to be faithful to the church, but with pain in her heart.”

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Pearl Valach

Greg Clark, partner of Pearl’s son Frank Valach Jr. for twenty-plus years, said Pearl was so pained by the priest’s actions that she never spoke about it. But Greg, Frank, and other members of the Valach family left the parish after the communion denial. They said the decision to hold the funeral at St. Leo’s was painful, but did so to respect Pearl’s wishes.

When Valach’s loved ones and parishioners–more than 300 people–gathered for the funeral on the morning of March 8, he told Shupe she could not join the singers, but she could only participate at the funeral from her pew. Shupe explained:

” ‘It was mortifying. It was the most embarrassing thing. I could have stepped down, but at the same time I thought, “That’s ridiculous “. . .I can’t believe anyone in the right mind, let alone anyone who professes to love God, could do this.’ “

Fr. Dan O’Rourke, the parish’s former pastor who was invited to celebrate the funeral, defended Shupe’s right to lead singing. After he argued with Spiering about the decision, Spiering threatened to prevent O’Rourke from presiding at the funeral, and threatened to ban him from the parish. The family, however, refused to let their mother’s funeral be tarnished by Spiering’s continued exclusion. When Spiering informed Valach’s widower, Frank Valach, that the he would now celebrate the funeral Mass, the family rejected that offering and demanded Fr. O’Rourke. Susan Valach explained:

” ‘We immediately said, “Absolutely, no”. . .I went up to the choir and said we would cancel. Our family was so upset and finally (Spiering) agreed to leave. . .

” ‘As a family, we would like to let this go, but it isn’t right. . .It hurts all Christians because it’s not compassionate.’ “

Fr. Jay Peterson, vicar general for the Great Falls-Billings Diocese who was in attendance, presided at the funeral Mass. Peterson invited the women, including Janie Shupe, to lead the singing. Greg Clark said all involved were able to put aside the pre-funeral antics of Spiering for a “reverent, celebratory, and beautiful” liturgy. Clark wrote on his blog [editor’s note: he uses strong language in the blog post]:

“For the balance of the day our family basked in her glow. And there was no doubt that God was with us. Hence against all odds, our love for her conquered all. It wasn’t until later that evening that our angst and frustration over the morning’s events arose again. All must be told about the sins of that Father.”

But the incident — and the harm done — has not ended. This controversy continued to play out in the following weeks. Spiering commented on the incident before his homily at Mass on March 22, stating the he does not regret the decision he made but only the manner in which he made it. He attacked Fr. O’Rourke in his statement and promised St. Leo’s parishioners a new funeral policy to “prevent such problems” in the future. Spiering apologized to the Valach family in a one-liner at the end, but the family said neither the priest nor Bishop Michael Warfel had reached out to them since the funeral.

Fr. O’Rourke released his own statement, explaining that Spiering would not let the matter drop even though the funeral was set to begin in fifteen minutes and had threatened to ban him from the parish. The former pastor’s statement ended positively: “The singer/musician sang her heart out.”

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Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff

Fr. Peterson, in his position as diocesan vicar general, defended Spiering’s actions as an exercise of his “canonical rights” despite it not being “the right pastoral decision.” Peterson said Bishop Michael Warfel was “very concerned” about the incident, which was described as an “unfortunate conflict.” Peterson, a longtime friend of the Valach family, said despite it being Holy Week he hoped “things can be dealt with sooner than later to bring healing and unity and peace” and would be involved if he could help, reported the Independent Record.

In the words of a Billings Gazette reporter:

“It was supposed to be a simple funeral for a woman who was a lifelong Catholic and a lifetime member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown. . .Instead, it devolved into a disagreement that nearly derailed the rite and left family and friends confused and angry.”

Few incidents in the church hurt more than sacramental exclusion and interference. These incidents cause tremendous pastoral damage to those targeted  and those witnessing these The tragic nature of this funeral incident speaks for itself. Coupled with Spiering’s denial of Communion to a same-gender couple, this funeral fiasco should be enough for Bishop Warfel to question Fr. Spiering’s ministerial competencies and role in active ministry and in the priesthood altogether.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Top Catechist Calls Teaching on Homosexuality “Nonsensical”

March 8, 2016

 

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Fr. Rene Camilleri

Malta’s top catechist has questioned Catholic teachings on homosexuality and criticized a position paper about reparative therapy released by that nation’s bishops last week.

Fr. Rene Camilleri, who heads Malta’s Secretariat for Catechesis and is the Archbishop’s Delegate for Evangelization, called church doctrine on homosexuality “nonsensical,” reported Malta Today. He said:

” ‘The Catholic Church’s doctrine still refers to homosexuality in terms of it being an illness or a disorder. . .Speaking like that in today’s society is simply nonsensical.’ “

Camilleri was responding to a position paper from the Maltese bishops opposing the criminalization of reparative therapy, a proposal currently under consideration by the island nation’s legislature. The paper linked homosexuality to pedophilia and to mental illness, prompting strong criticism and even an acknowledgement from Archbishop Charles Scicluna that the paper was a mistake. Camilleri added his own critiques, saying:

” ‘My objection to this position paper is that it seems as though the Church still believes that it is possible to convert homosexuals, which is unacceptable to me. . .we cannot accept the presence of gay conversion therapy on the market in this day and age.’ . . .

” ‘I have my doubts as to the paper’s intended target audience, but if it was addressed to the general public, then mentioning paedophilia in such a delicate topic was always going to leave room for misinterpretation.’ “

This is not Fr. Camilleri’s first time speaking positively about LGBT issues. Last year, he weighed in about a Maltese priest’s decision to bless the engagement rings of a same-sex couple in The Independent. Uncertain whether he would bless such rings, Camilleri still affirmed the other priest’s decision and said ministers “cannot deprive [same-gender couples] of the blessing for which they ask.” He continued:

” ‘Priests are going to face this kind of situation and others that are similar during our pastoral work in new emerging situations that need our utmost pastoral sensibility. The Church should always keep the person at the centre of her existence because her main concern is not to safeguard the law. If a person decides to change his or her way of life and does not conform to Church teachings, the Church itself cannot just slam the decision and use condemnatory language in their regard. . .We are there to accompany people, wherever they are and whatever they choose to do.’ “

Camilleri said that, faced with emerging realities like same-gender civil unions and gender identity protections, the church “cannot afford to keep repeating old teachings because these realities are here to stay.” Informed by new contexts and understandings, the church must “do a lot of rethinking” and “take bold choices,” ever mindful that “the only reason the Church exists are people themselves.”

In 2012, the catechist said church leaders were wrong to oppose adoption by lesbian and gay people and that “the suitability of a person cannot be determined by sexual orientation or marital status.” It should be the children’s interests, not stereotypes, which dictate adoption policies, reported Times of Malta.

Malta’s top catechist has spoken, too, about reforming the church towards what Pope Francis envisions, stating in a January interview with Malta Today:

” ‘[Pope Francis] seems no longer to be there as Pope to safeguard doctrine, but to safeguard mainly the freedom and dignity of people to decide on their own. In all this the role of the church is not seen mainly as that of teaching and guarding right doctrine, but of being there to accompany people in their own journeys.’ “

 

In recent years, people living in highly-Catholic Malta have increasingly decided that LGBT civil rights are supported by their faith and acted freely to advance them. The island nation hosts Drachma, a group for LGBT Catholics, and the Drachma Parents’ Group, which favorably influenced last year’s Synod on the Family. The Maltese government passed a transgender protections law in 2015 that is now considered the gold standard in Europe and legalized civil unions in 2013. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has now announced his support for marriage equality, saying the country is ready to debate the issue.

Fr. Camilleri’s comments about the “nonsensical” underpinnings to the church’s teaching on homosexuality are wonderfully honest. His willingness to criticize his own superiors and, even more so, their willingness to hear such criticism and respond accordingly are signs of progress, too. This freedom to converse more openly now about the problems in the church which many have identified for decades is refreshing. Catholic theology and pastoral practices can and will only improve under such conditions, particularly on issues of sexuality, gender, and relationships. I hope Maltese church leaders’ actions these past few weeks will be an example that spreads globally.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishop Paprocki Responds to Newspaper Letter on Communion Distribution

January 3, 2016
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John Freml

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has implicitly critiqued the recent comments by Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago on the matter of conscience and the distribution of communion.

Paprocki responded to a letter to the editor of a local newspaper which had supported Cupich’s inclusive approach.  The supportive letter, written by John Freml, coordinator of the Equally Blessed coalition, was published by The State Journal-Register.  Freml praised Cupich’s advice that Catholics, including LGBT ones, must make their own conscience decision about whether or not to receive Communion and added that the church must respect this decision. You can read more about Cupich’s remarks by clicking here.

Freml noted further that, despite conservative opinions to the contrary, a properly formed conscience is not necessarily a conscience in harmony with magisterial teaching. Inviting more Catholics to communion, Equally Blessed’s coordinator concluded:

“In fact, the church has a rich history of saints who have stood up to church leaders in good conscience, including St. Joan of Arc and St. Catherine of Siena. . .I hope that local Catholics who have previously refrained from participating in communion will take to heart Jesus’ message: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat it.’ Remember that Jesus welcomed everyone to the table without condition, even Judas.”

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Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Paprocki, known for his strong negative rhetoric on LGBT issues, including exorcism against marriage equality, responded in The State Journal-Register with his own letter.

Paprocki contradicted Archbishop Cupich’s claims about conscience. He suggested that only those who “recognize and repent of their sins” through the Sacrament of Reconciliation are actually in good conscience. He cited Canon 915 in his advocacy to deny Communion to those who are in same-gender marriages to, in his words:

“protect both the Sacrament from the risk of possible sacrilege and the faith community from the harm of scandal caused by someone’s public conduct that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Paprocki cited the new English translations of the Mass which state that Jesus died “for you and for many” in his conclusion to suggest that, while Jesus welcomes all, “not everyone accepts what Christ offers” like Judas. On a technical note, the “for many” cited is a disputed change in those new Mass translations, as the Latin phrase used for “many” actually implies an uncountable multitude synonymous with the “for all” in older translations.

While Bishop Paprocki’s argument challenged Cupich’s, his comments can also be seen as opposed to Pope Francis. Actions like zealously citing Canon Law to deny the sacraments are precisely what the pope has repeatedly criticized.

Catholics’ response to Bishop Paprocki should be precisely what Freml suggested: to answer Jesus’ call for all to come and be nourished regardless of who we are, from where we are coming, or how we ended up at the altar.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Communion Debate: Montana Gay Catholic vs. Cardinal Burke

November 19, 2014

If anyone wants a lesson in sacramental reverence and church faithfulness, no need to look further than the gay couple in Montana who were denied communion at their local parish in September.  You can read about that terrible action by local church officials by clicking here, and read follow-up posts here and here.  The respect for the sacramental life of the Church in the Montana story is in stark comparison to a recently demoted Cardinal who would use the Eucharist as a weapon or reward.

Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick

This week, Helena, Montana’s Independent Record newspaper interviewed Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff who had been active parishioners at St. Leo the Great parish, Lewistown, for 11 years before their pastor told them that they could not receive communion because they were legally married.

The newspaper article recounts some of the impact that the denial has had, and that one of the husbands continues to attend part of Mass each Sunday at the parish:

“Wojtowick and Huff were willing to write a restoration statement that, in part, would support the concept of marriage in the Catholic faith as between a man and a woman. But they refused the more drastic action of permanent separation.

“Huff has left St. Leo and attends St. James Episcopal Church. A number of other former parishioners departed St. Leo’s for the Episcopal church, Wojtowick said.

“Wojtowick attends half the Mass at St. Leo’s on Saturday nights, leaving after the homily, before the Eucharist is served. On Sundays, he often joins Huff at St. James, where he is frequently asked to play piano.

“Huff has said that he won’t return to St. Leo’s unless the ban is reversed. Others wonder why Wojtowick hasn’t taken that step.

“ ‘A lot of people said, “Why don’t you just give up on it?” ‘ he said in a telephone interview. ‘Boy, it’s hard. I invested so much time there, worked with hundreds of people.’

“His family also has been part of the parish for seven generations, dating back to the early 1900s. Both Wojtowick and Huff are lifelong Catholics.”

Not denying that it must be difficult for them both, I admire Wojtowick’s patience and persistence in claiming his rightful place in his local parish.  His witness attests to the fact that the laity are the stronghold of the Church, and that even despicable actions against them by ill-advised clergy will not keep them from claiming their sense of belonging.

Although Bishop Michael Warfel of the Great Falls-Billings diocese met with St. Leo parishioners in September, he has yet to meet with the couple.  But Wojtowick has been persistent:

“In mid-October, Wojtowick, himself a former priest, wrote a lengthy, in-depth piece he titled ‘The Warfel Solution — A Failure to Dialogue.’ He submitted the paper to Warfel.

“In it, Wojtowick maintains that the action Spiering took against the couple regarding divorce and separation, and which Warfel apparently upheld, is unprecedented anywhere else in the United States.

“Wojtowick got a letter from the bishop, who said he perused what Wojtowick had written, and plans to read it. The bishop also offered for the two to sit down for coffee the next time he comes through Lewistown, Wojtowick said.

“ ‘What’s odd to me is the censure comes from Father Spiering [pastor] at St. Leo’s, but the bishop hasn’t acted on it, he hasn’t changed it,’ he said. ‘I never heard anything formal.’ ”

Such persistence speaks of love of the Church and the Eucharist, which in itself, should be evidence enough to have the couple welcomed back to the communion table.

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Contrast this attitude toward the Eucharist with Cardinal Raymond Burke, a Vatican official who was recently demoted from head of the Church’s highest court to a ceremonial position as patron of the Knights of Malta. PinkNews.co.uk reported that Burke remarked to Irish television that communion should be denied to pro-marriage equality politicians:

“Speaking to RTE in Ireland, Burke refused to comment on his demotion, and also would not talk about the upcoming referendum on equal marriage in the country.

“However, he did say he would refuse to give communion to any legislators who voted in favour of equality.

“He said he would have ‘issues giving holy communion’ to Catholic legislators who backed gay rights against church doctrine.”

To me there is a wide chasm between Wojtowick’s respect for the Eucharist, which keeps him going to church even though he is denied full participation, and Burke’s use of the Eucharist as a weapon to intimidate politicians or as a reward for only those he deems politically correct.

Commonweal magazine’s most recent editorial focuses on Burke’s ultra conservative stance, but argues that he should be allowed to continue taking part in church debate about marriage, family, and sexuality which began at this past month’s synod.  But, the editor’s, while championing free debate, are not shy about pointing out the errors in Burke’s way of thinking:

“Yet Burke sets the wrong course for the church by insisting that the questions taken up in the synod were settled centuries ago and need never be revisited. His fear of foisting ‘confusion’ on the faithful is misplaced, especially his claim that no good can come from what the church has traditionally taught are disordered and gravely sinful acts and relationships. That gets the contemporary moral dilemma backwards. Given what the church teaches, what is perplexing for the faithful is the goodness evident in the lives of many divorced and remarried Catholics. Much virtue is also apparent in the loving relationships of same-sex couples, especially in their devotion to their children. Goodness, after all, is properly understood as a grace and a mystery. What is confounding is finding it in places where the church—or at least Cardinal Burke—claims it cannot exist.

“Burke will now have more free time to challenge those who think it imperative that the church reconsider the status of the divorced and remarried as well as the nature of homosexuality. And he should. These are not questions that demand a rush to judgment. But if the cardinal wants to be credible, he should refrain from pretending that all church doctrine was cast in stone two millennia ago. The moral questions Catholics face today are as real and as difficult as those faced by the apostles; pat answers did not work then, and will not work now. ‘We shall find ourselves unable to fix an historical point at which the growth of doctrine ceased, and the rule of faith was once and for all settled,’ Cardinal Newman wrote. Bishops should deepen, not simplify, our understanding as well as our faith. Change need not be betrayal.”

For Catholics, communion is the center of our lives.  It is what unites us as one body, despite our many differences and disagreements.  While we debate and discuss matters of personal and public concern, we should never lose sight of our unity as brothers and sisters.  Making the Eucharist a system of rewards and penalties destroys such important unity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

RTE.ie: “Cardinal would refuse Communion to pro-gay marriage Catholic legislators”

OnTopMag.com: “Cardinal Demoted By Pope Francis Would Deny Communion To Pro-Gay Marriage Lawmakers”

 

 

 


Missouri Lesbian Couple Denied Communion at Mother’s Funeral

February 1, 2014

Carol Parker and Josie Martin

Carol Parker and Josie Martin have been committed to one another for nearly two decades, but their love did not stop one priest from denying Parker Communion at her mother’s funeral last December.

The lesbian partners have attended St. Columban Catholic Church in Chillicothe, Missouri, for over a decade, but it was not until arrangements were being made for the funeral that Fr. Benjamin Kneib informed them they could not receive Communion. NewsPressNow reports:

” ‘It was a shock to hear him say that,’ Ms. Parker said. ‘I never expected that, especially at my mother’s funeral.’

“She added that at the funeral, most in attendance chose not to take Communion out of respect for her and Ms. Martin. Despite this show of solidarity, the women no longer feel welcome at the church and have begun visiting another an hour from their home.

” ‘That was our faith community. It really took away a lot of things for us…He (Father Kneib) would still like to see us there, but I don’t feel like I’m welcome if I can’t take part in the main focus of the Mass.’ “

Fr. Kneib wrote a letter on January 1st to Parker explaining why he denied the couple Communion, and he apologized the he did so at a moment like her mother’s funeral. For her part, Parker hopes the priest will:

” ‘…open his eyes and fully receive the LGBT community into the church.’

” ‘We’re all God’s children, and we have every right to receive Communion…Even the pope has said, “Who am I to judge?” ‘ “

This recent event is reminiscent of a 2012 incident when Barbara Johnson, a lesbian woman in Maryland, was denied Communion at her mother’s funeral. In that case, the priest was not only removed from ministry, but asked to leave the Archdiocese of Washington. Johnson, on the other hand, spoke about how the experience strengthened her faith and reminded Catholics that “All that matters is love.

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Communion denials are a very controversial issue, and though infrequent, are deeply harmful when they occur. It is helpful for all LGBT-positive Catholics to call to mind the words of a Rhode Island priest responding to inquiries after a gay couple there was denied Communion:

” ‘I am not in the business of denying Communion…As Pope Francis said, it’s not fair to judge. I preach the Gospel, and whoever hears it, hears it.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


(Most) Rhode Island Clergy Offer Lesson in Pastoral Priorities

August 20, 2013

Bishop Tobin at the Young Republicans meeting

At the beginning of August a newly married gay Catholic couple in Rhode Island was denied Communion by their pastor, just about the same time that Pope Francis made his “Who am I to judge?” comments returning from World Youth Day. The same priest who denied this couple communion also criticized pro-equality politicians.  Similarly, remarks by Providence’s bishop on LGBT issues further demonstrate that Catholic leaders remain unsettled months after Rhode Island passed marriage equality. This situation has left many clergy in disagreement about the best response to new realities, while other Catholics wish for more sensitivity from their priests.

Fr. Brian Sistare, the communion-denying pastor, told legislators who voted for the marriage law that he would use his clerical position to defeat them in coming elections, doing so in an email filled with inaccuracies and anti-gay language. Aside from risking the Church’s tax-exempt status with such partisanship, his endeavor seems futile given Rhode Island Catholics’ overwhelming support for LGBT rights. You can read Fr. Sistare’s full email at RIFuture.org.

Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence addressed marriage and the pope in a meeting with Young Republicans, where he coincidentally announced he had transferred parties from the Democrats because of their stands on social issues. Tobin reiterated his opposition to marriage equality and his belief that Pope Francis’ remarks on gay priests revealed nothing new. The Providence Journal also reports he spoke about denying Communion:

“On the question of whether priests should deny Communion to couples they know are living together — be they as gay couples or cohabitating heterosexual couples — Bishop Tobin said that question would be best left to the individual parish priests who know the individuals and who have counseled the couples about the church’s teaching.”

For their part, priests in the diocese are not following Fr. Sistare’s example of vilifying LGBT people and their supporters. In a piece by The Providence Journal, the response of clergy to the marriage law is viewed in light of a pope who wants more mercy and less judgment:

“Some of the topical questions facing priests now: Should they deny communion to an unmarried couple who lives together? Should they tell gay couples that their lives are disordered and they should refrain from Communion or go elsewhere? Or should they welcome the couples with open and forgiving arms?

“Interviews with Catholic priests around the state suggest most have a good idea as to what to say or do, even while they may disagree among themselves about the best approach. Most, however, are inclined toward following the lead of the new pope, even when they feel they must ‘speak the truth in love.’ “

Many parish priests equate same-gender couples with mixed-gender couples who live together and may be sexually active before marriage. This means that these priests allow Catholics to act according to their consciences when it comes to Communion:

“Father Thurber says he understands that ‘everyone is in a different spot in their place with God,’ and so he tries to meet people where they are. When couples who have been living together come to see him about getting married, he says, he extends ‘an open arm of welcome’ and leaves the question as to whether they should receive communion to their consciences and to God.

“ ‘I am not in the business of denying Communion,’ he says flatly. ‘As Pope Francis said, it’s not fair to judge. I preach the Gospel, and whoever hears it, hears it.’ “

Priests with a harder line insist their emphasis on rules about Communion is for everyone, not just LGBT people or couples, although they would remind a same-gender couple of the hierarchy’s teachings. Less concerned with regulations are priests like Fr. Charles Grondin who focuses on bringing people back to Mass and not on their perceived sins. He criticizes those who investigate parishioners’ lives and those who constantly remind Catholics about the rules about Communion. In a sign of hope, of the ten or so priests interviewed, all rejected the idea of denying Communion to parishioners in same-gender relationships.

Yet, Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic asks the most pressing question about clergy’s priorities relevant to Catholics everywhere, citing the example of Bishop Tobin and the Young Republicans. Contrasting Tobin with Bishop Thomas Lynch, who recently defended the Church’s efforts on behalf of those in poverty, Cones writes:

“Something’s wrong with the world when one bishop is trying to defend the charitable efforts of the church while another is addressing the Rhode Island Young Republicans about–you guessed it–gay marriage. As Scott Alessi notes in his blog post, Bishop Thomas Lynch of St. Petersburg [Florida] has stepped into defend Catholic Charities…Meanwhile, Bishop Tobin is up in Rhode Island licking his wounds over yet another loss in the civil same-sex marriage debate. Poor people? What poor people?”

Cones correctly notes the difference in priorities expressed here, and it seems that clergy understand that pastoral care and concern for the poor override any opposition to marriage, even if their bishop fails to do so. Cones concludes with a statement very relevant for Rhode Island, and beyond:

“Churches should be, of course, above partisan politics, calling politicians of every stripe back to the basic demands of the Bible: justice for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the poor. One reason for the current pope’s popularity is surely his basic message that the church should be a church of the poor. It would be nice if a few more of his brother bishops in this country would take note.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church?

May 27, 2013
David Gibson of Religion News Service

This spring, several Catholic bishops made positive comments about LGBT people within Catholicism, including remarks by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Easter and several Vatican officials endorsing civil unions.

In light of actions contradicting the welcoming message, David Gibson of Religion News Service poses an interesting question to several Catholics in recent headlines, “Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?” He writes of the tensions:

“It’s still not clear what the second step [after Dolan’s positive remarks] in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated…

“Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy ‘Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell’ policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.”

Francis DeBernardo
Francis DeBernardo

Gibson details the firings of Nicholas Coppola and Carla Hale, while Bondings 2.0 has reported on these and several other cases in recent months that are making LGBT-Catholic relations strained. Gibson quotes Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who questions how these actions fit with other Catholic principles about justice.

“’How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching?’…

“’Where do you draw the line?…Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?’”

Yet, not only are LGBT advocates within the Catholic Church worried, priests and others in ministry recognize the increasing frequency of these conflicts at local levels:

“’The fact is that it is going to get worse,’ said the pastor of a large Midwest parish who has had to fend off complaints about a lesbian member of his staff. As critics become more insistent, and as gay and lesbian Catholics become more public, he fears the resulting controversies will take a serious toll on the church.

“’We have to come to some kind of pastoral accommodation,’ he said.

Fr. Joe Muth

New Ways Ministry hosts a listing of gay-friendly parishes, which has grown to over 200 from just 20 a decade ago that are making pastoral accommodations. One parish with extensive experience doing LGBT ministry is St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, led by Fr. Joe Muth

“Gays and lesbians ‘just move into the regular life of the church’ at St. Matthew’s, Muth said, as he believes is perfectly normal.

“But he also said they are aware of the ‘sensitivity’ of their presence, so they have made a concerted effort to reach out to other groups in the parish, and the parish has also made sure to include one of Baltimore’s bishops in meetings.

“That dialogue has been invaluable, he said, and he has received few complaints or protests.”

Fr. Muth acknowledges that the framework is troubled, and limitations on engaging marriage equality or having LGBT ministers in public relations remain due to the bishops’ pressure. Gibson continues:

“In fact, the patchwork nature of the responses is part of the problem, say gay advocates. ‘It’s not that there is a witch hunt out there,’ said DeBernardo. ‘But there are witch hunters. … For the most part I don’t think bishops go after these folks. They don’t create controversy; they only respond to controversy.’

“At the moment, there are no guidelines to help pastors and parishioners deal with these issues, and there doesn’t seem to be an effort to develop anything comprehensive’…

“’Right now it’s a step-by-step process of helping people to be church,’ said Muth, of St. Matthew’s in Baltimore. ‘That’s the way I see it.’”

This piecemeal approach to solving the increasing number of parish conflicts does not seem sufficient to some, and leaves us asking LGBT Catholics, family, friends, and allies the very same question with which Gibson titled his article: Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?

Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below about if it is possible, and how you remain Catholic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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